Any winter slowdown at Cloud Mountain Farm Center (CMFC) was short this year. The mild weather has led to an earlier spring rush for the nursery, strong attendance at CMFC’s workshops, and early blooming. The interns started in February, and the internship program, now in its third year, has grown to include interns from other farms. Add to this a new farmer incubator program, a food processing center barely a year old, and all the usual seasonal activities of pruning, propagation, discing, tilling, planting, transplanting, and just general maintenance and you’d have a lot. But CMFC’s role in the Puget Sound Food Hub is expanding as well. And with general sales through the Hub up nearly 300% through the first quarter of this year, there’s a lot of hope, and expectation.
CMFC joined the Hub in September of 2014 as the newest aggregation and distribution site, and has been growing into the role. Last fall was all about integrating the demands of the Hub — aggregation, distribution, administration, troubleshooting — into the operations of an already fully-functional farm. This winter has been about outreach to the farming community in Whatcom County, and to local businesses as well, to encourage participation. To coordinate this process, CMFC looked to its 2014 crop of interns and hired Dave Publow, a new farmer with a background in community organization and environmental activism. The job started as part-time delivery driver, and developed in a few short months into Food Hub Manager. Dave has reached out to Whatcom farms through a series of informational presentations, cold-calling, and face-to-face meetings with farmers. Meanwhile, CMFC Business Finance and Development Director Cheryl Thornton and others at the Hub have reached out to area buyers, and interest in the Hub is growing.
For the buyers, it’s pretty straightforward: access to many farms with one order and one delivery. Many buyers in Whatcom County have already signed up, including the Community Food Coop, Boundary Bay, Terra Organica and others. For area farmers, The Hub is an opportunity–a chance to sell directly to the larger markets, like Seattle, that were out of reach before. But it’s unknown territory for many, so there’s caution. There are obstacles too–the cost of farm insurance to sell through the Hub, meeting food safety standards, and the burden of costly packaging. It can be a lot for a farm to sort through. CMFC and the Hub are teaming up with local organizations like Sustainable Connections, the Community Food Coop, and forward-thinking farms like Hopewell Farms, to address issues like replacing waxed boxes–a cash drain for farmers–with reusable totes.
The Hub also offers a chance to synchronize with existing programs, such as Farm to School. The potential is enormous, for the farmers, the schools, and the community as a whole.